From the CIAO Atlas Map of Africa Map of Europe 

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CIAO DATE: 05/03

Defensive Restructuring of the Military in Sub-Saharan Africa

Bjørn Møller

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute
June 2002

“Offence-defence theory” as we may call it, for lack of a better term, claims that international relations may be stabilised via a strengthening of the defensive at the expense of the offensive (Jervis 1978; Lynn-Jones 1995; Van Evera; Glaser & Kaufmann 1998). This is also the contention of the (mainly European) proponents of “non-offensive defence” (NOD) according to whom every country should, ideally, be able to defend itself against any other with the implication that none should be able to defeat any other through aggression. This would presumably make war less likely and arms races unlikely (Møller 1991; 1992; 1995; Wiseman 2002).

The theory presupposes that offence and defence are distinguishable and that the latter may be strengthened at the expense of the former, e.g. by capitalising on the “inherent supremacy of the defence” (Clausewitz 1984, 358). Distinctions may, in principle, by made at various levels of analyses, but not all make sense. To distinguish between offensive and defensive weapons is thus meaningless, as weapons are inherently “dual-use” and because genuine synergies matter. For instance, the possession of a shield (or its modern counterpart) allows for wielding the sword (or other offensive instruments) more efficiently.

To distinguish between total force postures, however, makes a lot of sense, requiring an assessment of whether the composition and deployment of the armed forces as a whole makes them most suitable for offensive or for defensive operations. Indeed, there was neither any doubt in the minds of western military analysts that the Soviet armed forces were mainly suitable for offensive operations, nor about what kind of changes in their composition and deployment would be required to make them significantly less offensive. This was actually accomplished with the CFE Treaty, which limited the holdings of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, combat aircraft and armed helicopters (Falkenrath 1994).

For all the merits of NOD theory as a possible contribution to solving the East-West conflict, when transposed to the Third World it may appear far too eurocentric and status quo oriented. It could thus be criticized for exhibiting several “blind spots”, including the following.